Steelers 2013 Training Camp Battles: Alameda Ta\’amu Versus Hebron Fangupo

In exactly 31 days the Pittsburgh Steelers will report to Latrobe for training camp, so it is now time for us to start previewing the 2013 training camp battles that will take place. First up on the list is the battle between nose tackles Alameda Ta\’amu and Hebron Fangupo. Feel free to add your comments below and vote in the poll in addition.

Training Camp Battle Setup: 2013 will feature a changing of the guard nose guard in Pittsburgh as Steve McLendon will now replace Casey Hampton, who held the starting job for nearly 12 seasons. The Steelers depth at the position has a big question mark associated with it; however, as both Ta\’amu and Fangupo have failed to play a regular season snap since arriving in Pittsburgh last year. To complicate matters, defensive end Al Woods received a lot of work as the second-team nose tackle over the course of the offseason practices.

Alameda Ta\’amu – We all knew that the Ta\’amu would be pretty much redshirted during his rookie season after being selected by the Steelers in the fourth round of the 2012 NFL Draft, but we had no idea that he would be wearing an orange jumpsuit in addition. Ta\’amu really let the organization down when he was arrested last October after he reportedly tried to evade police while driving intoxicated and hitting several parked cars on the South Side. Ta\’amu, who was suspended for two weeks without pay following the incident, eventually pleaded guilty to three counts of recklessly endangering another person, resisting arrest and driving under the influence and received 18 months probation as part of his sentence.

2013 is a new season for Ta\’amu, who has reportedly quite drinking and dropped a little weight during the offseason. He still has a long way to go, however, in his development of becoming a 3-4 nose tackle in Pittsburgh and the fact that he only saw limited work with the second team during the offseason practices isn\’t exactly encouraging news. Defensive line coach John Mitchell will continue to try to develop Ta\’amu during training camp, and the Washington product figures to see quite a bit of playing time during the preseason, which is something that he didn\’t get a lot of as a rookie. Can he two-gap effectively in the Steelers base 3-4 which allows the linebackers to stay covered up and make plays? Does he fully understand the defense now? We shall see during the preseason.

Hebron Fangupo – The Steelers lack of faith in Ta\’amu really showed when they decided to claim Fangupo off waivers from the Seattle Seahawks late last season. The coaching staff knew all about the BYU product, however, as they had him in for a pre draft visit prior to last years\’ draft. Fangupo played defensive end in college so his transition to nose tackle will take some time. Like Ta\’amu, Fangupo stayed in Pittsburgh most of the offseason in order to work on his conditioning. He has also admitted during the spring practices that he is having to forget everything he has learned prior to arriving in Pittsburgh as the position change requires a totally different skill set.

Fangupo is quite old for a player only in his second year as he will turn 28 years of age just prior to training camp get underway. With age, however, comes maturity and that is certainly where he has a leg up on the 22-year-old Ta\’amu. Fortunately for Fangupo, he played in a 3-4 system at BYU, so he is a little more accustomed to having to take on two blockers as opposed to just shooting a gap all the time. That being said, playing the nose tackle position will require him seeing the game from a whole different viewpoint.

Prediction: Knowing that Woods figures largely into the picture right now means there are no guarantees either of these two nose tackles will make the final 53 man roster. Should the Steelers have enough faith in Woods that he can handle the backup role to McLendon, then Ta\’amu and Fagupo could effectively be battling in camp for a spot on the Steelers practice squad. Right now, I would give the edge to Ta\’amu only because he is younger and was a draft pick because there simply isn\’t enough game tape on either player from last preseason to break down. Both of these combatants figure to get a lot of playing time during the preseason, so we will pay close attention to which one enters the game before the other and how each plays when given the opportunity. In essence, this training camp battle is more about the future than it is the present because should something happen to McLendon during the season; I have a feeling that Hampton will be signed to take over as the starter.


I am, I'm me. 40 something, retired and a life long Steelers fan.
  • grw1960

    True enough. From what I have read on different sites and some of his own comments. It seemed Ta’amu was pretty immature in his first season and took things more like he was still in college instead of a pro team.
    Fanqupo I think was picked up as the best insurance policy available in case Ta’amu didn’t change his ways and show marked improvement in his 2nd training camp.
    I think one of them makes the roster. I think the Steelers hope it will be Ta’amu the younger of the two. But only time, training camp and preseason will decide that for the Steelers.

  • steeltown

    Agreed

  • steeltown

    I still think they carry 6DL on the 53man..it would stand to reason that Ta’amu makes the Team, but IF Al Woods shows he can play some NT in the 3-4 than Ta’amu may be inactive on game days until one of the others go down

  • Nolrog

    31 days? Not that I want the summer to fly by, but I really can’t wait until camp opens. Such a slow time of the football year.

  • TJimmy

    While other sites and news outlets struggle to find newsworthy NFL topics, Dave Bryan sails along with a whole series of articles on training camp battles that is sure to keep things interesting here for a month. That’s why I like this site.

  • cencalsteeler

    The Steelers must see something promising in Alameda skill wise or he would’ve been off the team because of last years incident. Fangupo is an insurance policy and rotating Woods in the mix is a great idea. It all rests on the shoulders of Alameda as to how this pans out. I hope he gets his act together, I’m pulling for him.

  • Shea Fahr

    Since AT basically destroyed his Rookie Season, I will consider this year his Rookie year. With that being said, I would like to see them bring back Casey as an insurance policy in case Steve goes down. Let AT have one more year to start fresh. I just do not see Woods as the answer if something happens to Steve and we know the locker room would love to see snack back for ONE more year…even if it is in a back-up type of role to bridge the gap with the inexperienced depth.

  • Jefferson_St_Joe

    I’d look for Woods to be the game day back up, like you say, However, if McLendon is injured, I’d expect one of the wide bodies to step in and start and Woods to continue as the swing backup.

    My guess is Ta’amu makes it, but Fangupo certainly has a fighting chance.

  • Shannon Stephenson

    McLendon claims he can be a every down NT. If this is indeed true then Woods would make sense playing the ultimate backup role on the DL which makes both Ta’Amu and Fangupo expendable at least for the 53 man roster. I see Ta”Amu being on the PS because of his age but there a lot of circumstances that need to happen for this scenario to play out.

  • dgh57

    The fact that they tried working out Woods at backup NG in the OTAs tells me they are serious about him being a backup at NG. Any player moving to a new position whether as a backup or starter would want to know as soon as possible. That leaves Ta’amu & Fangupo battling it out in the preseason with the loser going to the PS. I still see (at this time) Woods as a backup DE so it will be interesting to see what order they all play this preseason!

  • cencalsteeler

    Great points!

  • Eddy

    I could see the coaches giving the player with the better “upside” the roster spot because whoever makes the 53 man will spend about 14 of the 16 games on the inactive list, sitting the bench all year.

  • JC

    To be honest, the depth at the nose tackle position is frightening and I’m concerned about both of these players right now. McClendon appears to be ready to take over the reins as a starter, but I’m not sure either Ta’amu or Fangupo are suitable back-ups at this point. Both are unproven players, but if I had to make a prediction it would be Ta’amu simply because his ceiling is higher. Ta’amu can become a solid NT if he can put it all together and play up to his physical abilities. However, it wouldn’t surprise me if Casey Hampton gets a phone call from the team before the season opener.

  • StarSpangledSteeler

    I think this year we keep 7 DL. It’s just one of those years where there’s too much uncertainty. Both Keisel and Hood could conceivably be gone next year. Our depth has not progressed as quickly as hoped.

    IMO, this year: Keisel, Heyward, Hood, McClendon, are locks.

    Woods? Ta’Amu? Fangupo? Williams? I could honestly see 3 of those guys on the roster.

  • steeltown

    You could be right… I keep going back to the fact that we’ll most likely only carry 4 Safeties instead of 5 like last season and same with the RB position.. so that opens 2 spots we didn’t have lasts year.
    I’d be fine with Woods, Ta’amu and Williams making the Team… though Williams could probably be stashed on the PS